Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The worthy poor, and other heresies

Charity, with all its shades of meaning, is one of the chief virtues of Christianity. We know that one way to exercise charity is to help those who are unable to buy the necessities of life. But we don’t want to be too profligate with our largesse, so we decide to limit our giving to the “worthy poor.” Let’s stop a minute and think about that. If they are worthy, if they deserve our charity, then our charity is no longer charity, we are simply giving them what they deserve. That is justice, not charity.

The giving of material help, in the form of money or otherwise, is only a small part of what is meant by charity. But that thought of restricting our charity to those who are worthy tends to worm its way into all our human relationships. So and so doesn’t understand me so there’s no point even trying to visit with her. Someone else has such a contrary attitude that it’s a waste of time trying to explain anything to him. Thus we limit our friendship to a select circle. If it’s all about me and my feelings, that is not charity.

Jesus promised a blessing to those who are poor in spirit, so we want to be poor in spirit in order to receive the blessing. But is there a conviction deep inside, that we almost succeed in hiding from ourselves, that we are one of the “worthy” poor in spirit? We deserve the blessing because . . .  Because of what? Good blood lines? Because we never did anything that was very wrong? Or perhaps we have led an outstandingly, spectacularly sinful life and we have become worthy by turning around. Again, it is all about me. Grace that is deserved because I am “worthy” is not grace at all.

I need to come to God and confess that everything that has ever turned out wrong in my life has been my own doing. Nobody helped me, I did it all by myself. And I need to hold on to that truth the rest of my life. I am still capable of all the things I once did, and far more besides. Then the grace of God is truly grace, and I can be charitable to all those who don’t seem to like me very much, because I am not worthy that anyone should like me. Everything good that comes my way in life is an unmerited blessing.

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